Running one of the world’s toughest races

Running one of the world’s toughest races

Last week I ran my first ever ultra.

Well actually, to be honest, no, I didn’t, technically run an ultra.

I ran 33km in La Ultra, which is not an ultra distance but WAS in a race called La Ultra 😛

Yeah, I know, splitting hairs…

This high altitude race, which takes place in the rarefied air of Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas, is the brain child of my running guru Dr. Rajat Chauhan. I’ve been aware of La Ultra for years now – even got to hang out with them during the 2014 edition of the race, since I was on a mountaineering trip to Ladakh at the same time.

But for me, this year was/is/forever will be a totally different edition of this iconic race.

Usually the distances run in La Ultra are truly amazing ultra distances – 111km, 222km, 333km and – wait for it – 555km.

Crazy sounding stuff, right?!

The 2022 edition of the race – held after 2 years, thanks to You Know What – was slightly different, since Doc wanted it to be much more inclusive. The stunning 111km distance stayed, and then there were 11km, 22km, 33km and 55km.

The result was many more runners, including lots of people taking part in a high altitude race for the first ever time.

The buzz around this event was quite something, and I am absolutely thrilled to have taken part in this new format La Ultra.

The organisation was phenomenal, especially in view of the challenging logistics of having 5 different race events high up in the Himalayas.

Over a mandatory week long acclimatisation, there were meetings in Leh (the capital of Ladakh), there was a medical check-up, there were insurance documents and disclaimers to be signed and filed.

There were cars to take us to the start line.

There was a high tea so we could all meet each other.

There was a police escort for the 111km runners who set off into the night to run.

Phenomenal!

And yet…

I was taken aback at some of the post-event criticism…”no photographers on the route”… I mean, jeez people, you just ran an event high in the Himalayas, with traditional musicians to see us off and welcome us back (even slow runners like me), with aid stations, and food, and water, and yet…

As we say in my native Yorkshire “there’s nowt so queer as folk.”

I’m putting it on record here that I had an absolute blast.

I loved every second of my run (crosses her fingers while saying this 😛 ) and I am FULL of admiration for the team and the support crews. Let me give you an example – I met up with my online training group for the first time, and discovered that half of them were volunteer crews at the hotel, handling registration and gear check etc.

I mean there was that level of ground support…so, Doc & your team, please ignore any nay-sayers.

My original plan was to run 55km, making my debut ultra at La Ultra, but some serious health issues last year conspired to arrange things differently, so I “settled” for 33km.

There’s always next year for 55km…

My race – actually Doc told us to call it a run, since there were no rankings etc – so my run went well, but not seamlessly.

Any problems were ENTIRELY of my own making, I hasten to add.

I fell spectacularly sick 2 days before the event, and spent a miserable 24 hours sleeping, not able to eat anything or hold anything down, and feeling generally mightily sorry for myself. As a result of this snafu, I didn’t do my race recce, ‘cos I was too weak, so went into the event rather unprepared and surprisingly nervous.

I haven’t stood at a starting line in years – thank you Covid – and felt strangely nervous.

I was also THE stupidest person in the ENTIRE race, carrying a back pack that was WAY too heavy for me, which has to have slowed me down…indeed, so fed up was I of my stupid, overloaded backpack that I left it at the 16.5km turn around point, entrusting it to the lovely folk up there, who kindly brought it back down the mountain for me.

I also STUPIDLY didn’t fuel right. Entirely my own fault, but I think I got caught up in a vicious cycle of worrying about my bad stomach of the precious day + loos + feeling a little spaced out by the stomach issues + meds, meaning food wasn’t appetising, so I didn’t eat and drink enough +++ As I said, all my own fault.

All these excuses, of course, are a vain attempt at justifying my slow pace, but let me repeat – EVERY PROBLEM WAS OF MY OWN MAKING.

I didn’t take many photos during the run, but I’m sharing what I have here:

The transport was on time at our hotel. Many runners were not. There were several slightly entitled messages along the lines of “I will be there in 15 minutes” a full 20 minutes after scheduled departure time…
Start line
The 11k, 22k and 33k start

There are very few compensations for being a crazy slow runner, but I did experience one of them.

For much of my run I was alone.

Entirely alone on a beautiful great mountain, surrounded by even more beautiful great mountains, snow capped, under a deep blue sky. It was stunning and beautiful and awe-inspiring and emotional and every other adjective you care to think of. Several times I felt close to tears, remembering my health scare and how I’d vowed that this would be my comeback event.

To be alone in a country as crowded and noisy as India is a rare gift, and I shall always treasure that time.

It was sublime.

Here are 2 rather breathless videos I took, one on the way up and one on the way down:

There’s no way of saying “I’m definitely” doing x, y or z next year – especially in these still-worrisome times – but if my stars align, I definitely want to run 55km next year, and truly run an ultra at La Ultra 🙂

In the meantime, thanks Doc and your team for organising such a fab event.

And thank you to the mountain gods for letting me have such a brilliant come-back.

35 Comments

  1. Your videos just sold the race to me! What an incredible experience it must have been. Congratulations Christine and thank you for adding something so very challenging to my bucket list

    Meenal Bishnoi

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